The purpose of this post is to list out how startups are bypassing established companies so that incumbents glean the best tactics and apply them to their own corporate innovation.
Tech startups are designed, built, and managed differently than established companies, giving them a competitive edge against incumbent corporations. This post outlines startup advantages, including cultural differences, business models, and business strategies. But, established companies aren’t sitting around idle; they’re adopting these same strategies in order to compete, emulate, or lead in their market. See how corporations are deploying ten types of innovation programs.
In our work at Crowd Companies, we’ve observed that big, established companies possess advantages in their tremendous resources, trusted brand names, and experience in their field, they are also plagued with gears that are slow to turn.
11 Ways Startups Outrun Established Corporations:
Startups have unique cultural differences:
Herein lies the greatest difference between a startup and and an established corporation: The core ethos of the organization is built differently.
1) Smaller, faster. Smaller in size, startups can quickly redirect employees in nearly any direction; there are fewer minds to change and fewer levels of management to get through. Additionally, startups hire innovators who are focused on new ways of doing business, which also enables them to quickly shift in unorthodox directions.
2) Embraces failure. Because startups have less at stake, they foster a culture that’s not afraid to fail. You’ll hear mantras that encourage “Fail Fast” or “Fail Forward” risk-taking in exchange for the potential of innovation. Meanwhile, established companies can be hesitant to pivot and disrupt their existing revenue streams.
3) Attracts high-risk/reward workers. Unlike stable career positions, entrepreneurial minded professionals are attracted to the startup lifestyle. This encourages wilder career moves in long shot startups, with the equity promise for high financial gain and industry fame.
4) Attracts skilled talent. Startups often attract top talent due to their sense of purpose and passion, quality of work life, perks, and promise of making it rich through equity packages rather than a salaried job at an established company.
5) They’re younger. As a whole, startup employees and founders, at least in tech, tend to be younger; they can afford to take more career risk, often with fewer family, health and financial commitments. Although controversial, Mark Zuckerberg claims they’re just “smarter” than older cohorts as they may have the latest skills, or can be easier molded.
Startup business models are setup differently:
Startups are set up differently as business entities than established corporations, giving them additional advantages to take down their target markets.
6) VC funded. Ample VC funding enables radical innovation and encourages high-risk business models, often designed to disrupt incumbents through the use of networks, technology, and new methods of going to market.
7) Privately held. Startups have more freedom to disrupt an existing market, as they’re not exposed to the scrutiny over quarterly earnings like public companies are. As a result, these startups answer only to their executives and board, and they can plan beyond the next quarter.
8) Growth over revenue. Startups are not held to the same standards as publicly traded corporations. Startups are often focused on market penetration and adoption rather than just revenue. To avoid upsetting users, Facebook didn’t turn on its “mobile advertising” engines until post-IPO.
Startups have an unorthodox business strategy: The way startups deploy their day-to-day businesses is different than established companies; they move faster, with greater risk, and are able to quickly ship product.
9) Tackle niche, then grow. Startups can attack small markets, then grow them to compete with established companies. Established corporations often don’t have the appetite to defend smaller markets, giving startups the ability to gain footholds as they expand.
10) Faster than the law. Startups often challenge existing rules, laws, and regulations. They’re able to move faster than regulators, then reshape the discussion to their benefit, like Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft have.
11) Quickly ship product. Startups are known for the practice of “shipping fast” in their product releases: releasing versions daily if not hourly, and are taught that shipping a product when it’s 90% or even 80% finished is acceptable — rather than perfecting it like an established corporation would.
Looking at across these 11 different ways that startups are able to outrun established corporations, you can see that the very core makeup of the culture, business setup, and their strategies are often different than older established companies.
Rather than arbitrarily throw around the “innovation” word, understand how it impacts your customers, and be specific. Innovation comes in four flavors: product innovation, operational innovation, customer experience innovation, and business model innovation.
Corporate innovation isn’t easy. Stefan Petzov, an innovation professional at Swisscom, a Crowd Companies member, has outlined the many challenges that innovation programs inherently face. In particular, the first challenge he lists out is that companies struggle because “the expected outcome is not clearly defined.” Clarity is paramount.
One way to solve this top-level challenge is to ensure your company and innovation partners have a standard nomenclature for how innovation is used. We looked at structuring this language around products, business units, or functions, but found it would be most helpful to structure it around customer benefit.
First, some qualifications on the scope of this discussion: The following is focused on how innovation is done within a company, not about external activities like partnerships, investment, acquisition, accelerators, and more. In a recent post, we identified the ten types of innovation programs, which goes into a bit more detail.
Corporate Innovation Impacts Customers in Four Ways:
Benefits to Customers
1) Product Innovation
Often led by R&D, product features are enhanced, or new products are developed based on the product roadmap.
New services beyond the core product offering, including supportive media, communications in new channels and mediums, and white-glove service.
4) Business Model Innovation
Often led by innovators or strategists, companies identify complete new revenue streams from existing core capabilities.
BMW launched ReachNow, enabling customers to rent vehicles on demand — rather than buy — packaged with parking services, insurance, and more.
Core product and service offerings are provided in new ways that meet shifting customer expectations –reframing customer relationships in the face of disruptive technologies.
With new technologies emerging at a rapid pace (who knew Pokemon Go would be a top app within just a few days), companies have no choice but to accelerate their rate of innovation. Unfortunately, most companies focus exclusively on only one or two forms of corporate innovation, forgetting others that could be a key competitive advantage to satisfying the ever-changing expectations of customers.
Most companies focus on Product Innovation, which can quickly escalate into a race amongst competitors towards a commoditization that churns out less-than-useful new products rather than true innovation that revolutionizes the way customers live. In recent periods, I’ve also observed companies redeploy attention on Customer Experience Innovation as they scramble to reach customers in a multitude of digital and in-person channels.
An area we focus heavily on at Crowd Companies is how companies tap into the power of people and technology to unlock new revenues by serving customers in new ways through Business Model Innovation, whether that’s in the Collaborative Economy or the Autonomous World, where robots take the wheel, and whatever comes next.
To maximize customer satisfaction — and ultimately competitive edge — companies must innovate in all four of these areas, as well as ensure that the innovation management team is coordinating all efforts toward a single goal.
In closing, when you’re using the word innovation, be clear about which of the four types you’re referring to, as it impacts your company, employees, and customers in significant ways.
Should large, established companies innovate internally or just acquire successful startups?
This post is part of our continued series on Corporate Innovation, in preparation for a research report, on this topic. Last week, we published The Ten Types of Corporate Innovation Programs which looks at broad swath of options, and in this post, we’ll dive into two major choices that companies are often weighing out: building their own, or acquiring startups.
Build: Corporations invest in building innovation internally, but with risks to their success. The upside of companies building their own startups from within is that they can tailor them to their specific business strategy. I’ve spent time with Nestle, which successfully built out its home coffee line, Nespresso, to fit nicely into the company’s brand, operations, supply chain, and — most importantly — culture. The downside is that there’s incredible risk for large companies to build these, and executive support is required at all phases of the venture. Among the chief risks of internally led product programs is that they require immense resources and still can have a high rate of failure, as told to me by a CPG executive who thinks a success rate of internal led innovation programs will be about 10%. This compounds the risks to corporations when competing with agile startups that aren’t as mindful about regulations and don’t suffer from a culture resistant to change.
Buy: Corporations acquire startups at a hefty price tag and with potential for integration woes. Corporations often rely on acquiring successful startups. A case in point made the news two weeks ago when Unilever purchased proven subscription company Dollar Shave Club for a reported $1 billion price tag. While Unilever stands to gain in many ways by upselling its goods to existing loyal Dollar Shave Club customers, there are drawbacks: The cultures may never neatly fit together, and operations and supply chains are radically different. Fortunately for Unilever, it has a track record of successful acquisitions; for example, Ben & Jerry’s was bought in 2000 and still lives on as a power brand 16 years later, despite experts indicate that mergers and acquisitions fail up to 90% of the time. That’s a very expensive investment with a low rate of success. Often, corporations are considered the elephant graveyard of startups — the acquired founders often leave the company, after their contract is up –taking with them an entrepreneurial vibe.
In between: Corporations partner with startups. Of course, there’s also a middle ground where corporations partner with many different startups and place small bets on each in terms of direct investment, or they establish limited partnerships in venture funds. They also conduct direct partnerships through relationships with startups for the purpose of cross-selling or other forms of engagement. Often, this courtship is used to glean market intelligence, get in position to double down for future investment, block competitors from getting too close, or take the startup off the market for acquisition at a later date. The downside of these partnership models is that the corporation is never fully in the driver’s seat. It’s always vulnerable to the whims of the startup’s leaders, who can often change direction as they see fit.
Corporate Innovation: When to Build, Buy, or Partner
Ignorance is bliss, and it’s cheap — at least for now.
Risk being passed up by competitors or disrupted by startups.
Build in house innovation.
Tailor it to the company and culture.
Requires executive support, risks failure.
Acquire successful startup.
A proven model that can expand market capability.
Extremely expensive and difficult to integrate into the culture.
Acquire failed startup.
Cheap assets: IP, customers, or resources.
Failed model, with resuscitation very challenging.
Partner with startups: invest or collaborate.
Lower-risk model with access to market intel and strategic positioning.
Far less control than build or buy.
Which to choose? Companies are deploying these three strategies, and more. We’ve yet to see any single right way to do to it. But would love to hear your thoughts: What’s the best strategy for corporations? Should they act like startups and build technology? Or purchase it by acquiring startups?
Large, established companies are trying on various programs to foster new innovations in an attempt to find the best way to change course for their big ships.
These established companies are struggling to keep up with fast-paced, venture-backed startups that are changing customer expectations — and often causing business model disruption for traditional businesses. To combat this ever-growing threat, corporations are stepping up their investments in innovation and deploying a variety of strategies, as outlined in the following table.
As founder of Crowd Companies, an Innovation Council, we work directly with these innovation teams and have been able to observe and document these types of programs. Often, companies are combining strategies and deploying multiple efforts at any given time. In our upcoming research report on the topic of corporate innovation, we will document how the top companies are leading the charge.
To provide some context for this new corporate innovation, note that we discovered companies are not just investing in incremental product features or enhancements; they are investing in new business models or altering the customer experience beyond the core product.
The Ten Types of Corporate Innovation Programs:
1: Dedicated Innovation Team
Corporations often start with staffing an innovation team within the company of full time employees dedicated to developing the strategy, managing, and activating innovation programs. These leaders are experts at internal communications, and are change agents.
MasterCard, Hallmark, and BMW have innovation teams dedicated to new business ideas.
2: Innovation Center of Excellence
Innovation can’t happen in a single group; without broader institutional digestion, new ideas will falter and fall. Some corporations are setting up cross-functional, multi-disciplinary groups to share knowledge throughout the company.
Various retailers and consumer packaged goods companies enable this.
3: Intrapreneur Program
Rather than rely solely on external programs, internal employees — dubbed “intrapreneurs” — are given a platform and resources to innovate. These programs invest in employees’ ideas and passions to unlock everything from customer experience improvements to product enhancements and full-blown internal startups that are then launched from within the company.
4: Open Innovation: Hosted Accelerator or Corporate Incubator
Hosted inside a corporate office, large corporations invite startups to embed at their physical locations and provide them funding, corporate support, and other perks. This brings innovative startups inside a large company for everything from overnight hackathons to long-term programs. Other variations include online open-innovation programs that request — and often reward — ideas from the crowd.
Frequently inspiration comes from outside, not within. Corporate leaders tour innovative organizations, companies, and regions to discover trends in various industries, learn from speakers, meet partners, and be inspired as they immerse themselves in innovation culture.
European-based WDHB and Nexxworks tour executives in Silicon Valley and beyond –I’m a frequent speaker at their events.
6: Innovation Outpost
A dedicated physical office, such as in Silicon Valley or wherever innovation happens in their market, staffed with corporate innovation professionals whose job is to sense what’s occurring in a market, connect with local startups, and integrate programs back into the corporate HQ. Some of them host partners, events, and startups, thereby spreading the function to Internal Accelerator programs. An Innovation Outpost is typically managed by employees — unlike an External Accelerator, which is run by a third party.
Corporations partner with third-party accelerators to provide sponsorship and/or funding in exchange for relationships with startups and integration opportunities. Corporate innovation professionals often embed themselves in Accelerator offices, fostering relationships with local startups. These External Accelerators are run by third parties — unlike Innovation Outposts, which are managed by employees.
Plug and Play, Singularity University, Rocketspace, Runway, 500 Startups, Betaworks, and more.
8: Technology Education, University Partnership
Corporations can tap into new graduates, early-stage projects and companies, and the network of an established educational institution. In addition to traditional universities, there are new private versions opening up that are dedicated solely to technology training, like Galvanize and General Assembly.
General Assembly, Galvanize, and most tech- or business-focused universities.
Many corporations place bets among the startup ecosystem, with both small amounts for early-stage startups and larger amounts of corporate funding that yields market data, creates opportunities for follow-on investments, and blocks competitors.
Intel Capital is a leader in direct corporate investments.
Rather than build innovation from the inside, many corporations acquire successful startups and then integrate. While often expensive, the startup is often already successful, and the acquisition can help the startup scale further.
As one example, Dollar Shave Club was purchased by Unilever for a reported $1B.
In summary, corporations don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to helping their company activate new ways of doing business. They will deploy multiple forms, at different times, with varying degrees of success.
What’s very interesting is that a majority of these examples are “outside-in” innovation, where companies are drawing knowledge, resources, or expertise from groups outside their own company.
Because most of these programs rely on external innovations, organizational alignment is key to helping companies digest market changes.
Stay tuned for further insights as we prepare to publish our report on corporate innovation this fall, and please leave a comment if we’ve left out a strategy — or need to modify an existing one.
That’s the question BMW posed to its expert speakers at BMW Welcomes, held at BMW Welt in Munich, Germany, on June 23. where I served as emcee of event. BMW Welcomes gathers transportation futurists from around the globe to examine topics from Hyperloop to space travel.
In this video you’ll learn:
What is the future of mobility?
How is the space industry going to enable change?
How will Hyperloop going to change transportation?
What ensued was riveting conversation about the future of mobility and how major automotive players and international technology innovators are rethinking car ownership in favor of new transportation innovation and sharing behaviors. The Collaborative Economy will play a role, though it’s only a starting point for change. The future goes beyond self-driving cars, holding promise for a complete transformation of all aspects of society and transportation.
Event speakers included:
Frank Salzgeber, Head of Technology Transfer Program Office, European Space Agency
Daniel Wiegand, Startup presentation: Lilium aviation
Oliver Heilmer, Head of Interior Design BMW, BMW Group
BMW defines “Future Mobility” as the way we will transport ourselves in the future by significantly increasing range, speed, and acceleration of our journeys, while simultaneously reducing cost and environmental damage. Watch the entire event below for more insight into the projects that will shape our lives forever.
Can you let your employees take charge of innovation – with little managerial oversight? When employees are empowered to make a difference on their own – to lead rather than follow a managerial directive – the innovation process takes on a life of its own.
Adobe Kickbox, a physical box of practical tools and resources for employees to innovate rapidly and independently, fosters innovation in every pocket of the company. It helps capture grassroots innovation happening at the edges of the internal network.
At more than 11,000 employees, Adobe is a large software company in the heart of Silicon Valley. Such companies can struggle to keep talent when the best and brightest are often lured away by promises of lucrative start-ups and entrepreneurship. By focusing on fostering intrapreneurship in its employee base, Adobe offers the empowerment needed to keep staff engaged and challenged while directly contributing to product R&D and company growth.
Although today Adobe Kickbox can be used by any company, it originally began as the sole innovation process used at Adobe since 2012.
Since its inception, more than a thousand new ideas have been prototyped using the Kickbox process. Once Adobe realised the potential for Kickbox to support innovation in all companies, it began offering its resources free for download at Kickbox.Adobe.com. Thousands of companies and organizations have already downloaded the kit in multiple languages.
What, exactly, makes Kickbox so different and so successful? Adobe Kickbox pulls employee innovation out of people’s brains and into action, using the following tools in a training session:
Prepaid credit card with $1,000 for project research and proof-of-concept (empowerment)
Starbucks gift card (caffeine)
Chocolate bar (sugar)
Complete directions for Adobe’s innovation process (some structure)
Once an Adobe employees completes the final phase of the innovation process directions, they’re then awarded a “Blue Box” (with its secret contents undisclosed) and assigned an executive sponsor to bring their ideas to fruition. Your guess is good as mine, as what’s in there – but that desire to get to the next level will drive motivation.
How to ensure quality ideas while still “failing fast”
The goal of the Adobe Kickbox innovation process is to increase the rate of failure by making small bets on ideas in a really fast, decentralized way. It intentionally “breaks” all of a company’s processes and requires leaders to completely rethink their innovation funnel. But, in the end, it will result in diverse ideas and products that customers actually want. To fail fast, employees follow the Kickbox’s six steps to innovation.
Inception. Motivating Innovation of new ideas.
Ideate. Brainstorming to come up with new ways to help customers and employees.
Improve. Polishing Ideas to refine before taking to market.
Investigate. Talk to customers and test directly. (This is often where the $1,000 prepaid card comes in, as employees create a proof of concept to show that customers would want and adopt their idea. This may include advertising, A/B testing, or hiring the crowd to build a prototype.)
Iterate. Evolve hypothesis based on findings from the investigation.
Infiltrate. Pitch to management. (The final pitch in step six must end with a request for money – budget/resources – in order to secure c-suite commitment. Those with hard numbers from the tests stand to gain more traction)
Using this process, Kickbox teaches people to innovate when there is no innovation programme within the company. It requires no infrastructure, no leadership review and deliberation, and comes with complete directions. To ensure quality of ideas, Adobe also requires employees utilizing Kickbox to first attend an instructional class, a foundational course many other companies have since replicated.
Kickbox innovation requires complete commitment, even to points of contention
In order for Kickbox to be successful within an organisation, companies must adopt the six-step process fully, without exception. In a Crowd Companies innovation council call, Mark Randall, VP of Creativity at Adobe, shared three big points of contention that companies most struggle with in Kickbox adoption:
It must be open to all employees. Kickbox won’t be successful if it doesn’t embrace the fact that a good idea can come from anywhere, in any department, not just marketing or product development.
Employees are empowered to pursue any idea. The empowerment for all employees to explore democratises innovation and puts trust into action.
Intrapreneurs must receive “no-look funding” in the amount of $1,000. This is a critical part of the “special sauce” that makes Kickbox successful. It’s a significant risk to invest in ideas blindly, but Adobe found that people spent their money much more carefully than they did using normal budgetary allocation.
Kickbox inspires profound changes in employee behavior and their relationship to the company. You can download Adobe Kickbox here to begin the full innovation process today.
I’ve worked with Adobe for many years, and they’re currently a customer of my company, Crowd Companies, an innovation council.